Did you ever read one of those product reviews that was largely a rewrite of the manufacturer's marketing brochure ? Did you ever purchase a product based on the advertising only to have it fall short of the advertising claims ? Ever wish someone did a real world test of a product you were interested in ? Well, the Internet gets us closer these days with product reviews, but they seem to contain the disgruntled and the ecstatic with little inbetween. Consumer reports is good if you want a washer/dryer, but they may not have reviewed your product, and they cost money. So in the hopes that more people will do the same, I offer this real world test of some motorcycle gear used on a 6,000 mile rountrip in 10 days.
FirstGear Kilimanjaro Jacket. I previously posted on this jacket and how great it was in the winter. Well, this test took place in one of the hottest summers on record across the midwest and across Oregon's high desert. Along the way was a 38 degree morning in the Utah mountains, and several more in the low 40s. Also along the way were 3 periods of rain, with one of them a real downpour. There was also a few hundred miles offroad in hot dusty conditions, and heavy crosswinds in western Nebraska. A pretty thorough test. I debated taking this jacket because (a) it is heavy, and (b) it is least suited to hot weather. The decision to go with it turned out to be a good one. It was ideal on the colder mornings and at night with just a sweatshirt beneath it. I carried the liner, but only used it (as advertised), as a jacket one cool evening. Now, even with all of the vents open, this is not a good hot weather jacket. It is heavy and thick. Without a windshield, it would probably have worked better given the armor-like shell, but with little airflow, it is barely adequate. Also, the collar flaps around unless you zip up the jacket two thirds of the way. It would be great if you could velcro or snap the vents to keep them open. In the rain, the jacket was brilliant. I carried a rain suit, but only used the pants. The jacket beads water and I was never wet on the inside even in a pretty good downpour. The underarm vents regulated temperatures, and it dried quickly once the sun came out.
Throttle Rocker. This simple piece of plastic with some velcro really does what it says. You have to find the angle that is right for the speed you want to travel, and make the velcro tight if you want it to stay put. For highway speeds, this makes it tough once you exit the highway since the throttle is partially obscured by the device. However, at speed, you can use the palm of your hand at rest to maintain speed. An alternative is to make the velcro a little less tight, and adjust it periodically to maintain speed. this can get annoying, but you can slide the device easily to handle different speeds. For $9, it is the poor man's cruise control, and it probably costs $1.50 to make, but it was a great help.
Cardo Rider Teamset. This bluetooth helmet device makes it possible to interact with a phone, a GPS, and an iPod. Receiving calls worked perfectly. You can answer by voice, or by tapping the large button on the helmet-mounted device. Easy even with gloves and you get an audio beep for confirmation. The audio clarity is very good, and the auto adjust volume for speed works well. Most callers had no idea I was on the bike, and commented on how much better this sounded that my hands-free car setup. Making calls was via voice activation to the iPhone for me. That was problematic mainly due to the recognition process of the phone, not the Cardo unit. My GPS did not have the right bluetooth capability, so I could not use that feature. The iPod feature is by physical wire plugged into a jack on the unit. This requires you to keep the iPod in a pocket or very nearby. It was also lacking in volume and was unusable at highway speeds. You need an amplifier of some kind or a more powerful device than the iPod/iPhone to make this usable.
Happy-Trails Panniers. These aluminum panniers proved dustproof, and waterproof thanks to a great sealing system. The lockable lids were secure, but the locks will not work if they are packed to the gills with items that interfere with the path of the lock tab. A minor quibble. The extra capacity over the stock luggage on the GS and the top-loading are both great. The lid attachment points were invaluable in securing a dry bag on one side, and tarp and rain gear on the other. Brilliant stuff at very reasonable prices compared to the alternatives.
Cee Bailey Tall Windshield. This shield makes the GS look (even more) ungainly, and it probably robs a MPG or 2 due to its size, but boy does it work. It transforms the cockpit into a relatively calm and relatively quiet place. If you are around 6' tall, this should be just about right. The only drawback, and this is a balance you have to strike, is that there is relatively little airflow to the rider. YMMV.
Vega Summit II Helmet. This helmet certainly had its flip-up mechanism tested on this trip, and it held up well. No issues there. It is not the best helmet for airflow, and I found myself leaving the shield open much of the time. This interferes with the use of the Communication device, so I opened and closed it a lot. The good news is that the detents for the opening stages are well defined. The interior was comfortable for long periods of time, and shield changes were very easy.
Vega Mesh Riding Pants. Through sheer coincidence, I purchased some mesh riding pants for the return journey in the heat and they were from the same Vega that made my helmet. These pants were a revelation. For under $90, they are well made, and come with full armor. The mesh areas are interspersed with ballistic nylon in key areas such as the seat and the shins. Although they are mesh, they do not let a lot of air flow through. They feel more like jeans in that you get the effect of any breeze, but your legs are still protected to some extent. They worked for me in a wide range of conditions with just bicycle shorts underneath. Good Stuff.